NORTH YARMOUTH — Ann Dillon’s vision for a youth chorale was born in a journal entry and raised on the stage.
Now, after 13 years as executive director of the Wescustago Youth Chorale, the North Yarmouth woman is stepping down to follow other pursuits. But music education will continue to be a big part of her life.
Dillon will conduct her final concert with the chorale at 7 p.m. Saturday, April 30, at the Freeport Performing Arts Center at Freeport High School.
“The choir has heart,” Dillon said last week. “It’s not just about learning notes. It’s about building community.”
Her idea for the chorale began about 25 years ago when she attended a journaling workshop and was asked to write about how she would make the world a better place. Half of the allotted 30 minutes passed, and then inspiration struck.
“The vision of what was to become the Wescustago Youth Chorale flowed through my pen,” Dillon recalled. “The vision was to found a singing group for middle and high school students that would not only strive for musical excellence but also create a community of mutual respect and inclusivity. The group would learn music so rich in beauty and inspiration the singers would be filled with desire to make a difference in the world. The vision felt overwhelming and I immediately tucked it away.”
Eight years later, Dillon moved to North Yarmouth and met an attorney, Linda Russell. After seeing Dillon work with a children’s choir, Russell asked her about starting a community-based choral group for area youth.
While such an idea still overwhelmed her, Dillon ultimately made plans with Russell and the Wescustogo Youth Choir was born in 1998. Its original 24 singers, in grades six through 12, included Dillon’s daughter and Russell’s son.
Reflecting on what she has most enjoyed about her time with the chorale, Dillon said, “I am moved by the magic that happens between singer and director and among singers. I love the energy that is released when singers are engaged in the process. I have been intentional since the start about group-building and bonding because mutual respect and inclusivity are at the very core of the founding principles of WYC.”
The chorale, which performs two major concerts a year, has sung with the Portland Symphony Orchestra’s production of “Magic of Christmas” and the Maine State Ballet’s “Nutcracker.”It has also performed benefit concerts for groups like the Make-A-Wish Foundation, the Maine Council on Child Abuse and Domestic Violence and local churches.
Each performance ends with “Imagine,” which Dillon called “a timeless piece encouraging mutual respect and inclusivity.”
That 1971 John Lennon song reminded her of one of her favorite memories with the chorale; a time they were performing in New York City and visited the Strawberry Fields memorial to Lennon in Central Park.
“The kids and I, we were awestruck, and they said, ‘can we sing, can we sing?,'” Dillon said. “They stood in a circle, holding hands around that memorial and sang ‘Imagine,’ while I cried. It was incredible.”
The chorale expanded two years ago to have three tiers with three conductors: the Harraseeket Singers, a a prep choir with Renovia Marro; the Kennebec Singers, an intermediate treble choir with Lise Dunn; and the Wescustago Singers, a high school choir with Dillon. The nearly 90 singers hail from North Yarmouth, Cumberland, Yarmouth, Falmouth, Freeport, Bath, Topsham, Brunswick and Portland.
Dillon, who turned 60 in February, said she is retiring “to create a better balance between work and leisure.”
She has worked in public schools for 25 years, the past 14 of them as a general and choral music teacher in School Administrative District 51. Dillon has also registered for two triathlons this year, the Tri For a Cure to benefit the Maine Cancer Foundation – in memory of a friend – and the Tri for the Y fundraiser.
“I’ve never had time to play,” she said, laughing. “And now, training for triathlons; I’m not sure that’s play, but it’s fun.”
Ann Dillon of North Yarmouth is retiring after 13 years directing the Wescustago Youth Chorale.